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One player each NFL team should be thankful for this Thanksgiving

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There is no American sporting tradition like Thanksgiving football, and this year’s Thanksgiving Day slate will feature competitive rivalries and games that are sure to have some playoff implications.

The Detroit Lions will host the Buffalo Bills, the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings will welcome the New England Patriots into town for the primetime game.

The current standings all have close playoff races. In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers are among those on the outside looking in. In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders and Atlanta Falcons are among those on the brink of a spot.

Every team has someone to be thankful for this season regardless of their positioning.

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Read below for that list.

Josh Allen still has a chance to get back in the NFL MVP race, as his play as come under scrutiny over recent weeks. He has 2,930 passing yards this season and 21 touchdown passes. He also has 10 interceptions in just 10 games this season.

The Dolphins made the shrewd move to acquire Tyreek Hill in the offseason, and it has paid off. Miami is on top of the AFC East and the wide receiver has helped transform Tua Tagovailoa into an MVP candidate. Hill currently leads the NFL with 81 receptions and with 1,148 receiving yards. He has four touchdowns this season.

The Patriots’ offense may not be anything to write home about, but the defense has been one of the best in the NFL and that is partly thanks to Matt Judon. In nine games, he is leading the NFL with 13 sacks. He also has 40 tackles, 21 QB hits, three passes defended and a forced fumble.

Sauce Gardner has been an absolute delight for the Jets this season. The rookie cornerback leads the NFL with 14 passes defended. He also has two interceptions and 45 tackles this season. If teams want to throw it deep on New York, they have to know Gardner is lurking in the secondary.

Lamar Jackson is playing without a guarantee he will be back on the Ravens next season. He has led Baltimore to five wins out of their last six games heading into Week 12. He has 1,977 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes, which matches his total from last year. He also has 666 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

As the Bengals dealt with an injury to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, third-year quarterback Joe Burrow has kept the team in line, and they have bounced back from a slow start. Cincinnati has won four of their last five games, and performances like four touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers are why the Bengals are in contention for the AFC North again.

The Browns have been a bit of a let-down this season, but Nick Chubb has been at it again. The three-time Pro Bowler is nearing the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fourth straight time and is on pace to set a career-high in rushing touchdowns.

The Steelers have struggled with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm, and the defense has not been great, especially in the absence of T.J. Watt for most of the season. Alex Highsmith is having a breakout season though, leading the team with nine sacks in his third season. His development is going to be crucial for the Steelers moving forward, even in a down year like 2022 is.

The Texans have not played well in Lovie Smith’s first season on the sidelines. The defense is 18th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed. Jerry Hughes has been a bright spot for the defensive side of the football. In his first season with Houston, the veteran has 25 tackles and eight sacks. He also has an interception this season.

Though the Jaguars do not have many wins on the board, going into Week 12 Jacksonville is plus-11 in point differential but are only 3-7. Christian Kirk has emerged as a top target for Trevor Lawrence. He has a career-high seven touchdowns to go along with 52 catches for 679 yards.

If Jonathan Taylor stayed completely healthy during the season, the Colts would not have had so much flux and controversy. Taylor rushed for 161 yards and 147 yards in two separate games. He is a far cry from his performance last season. He has 693 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Derrick Henry is the biggest workhorse in the NFL and has kept the Titans in contention even while Ryan Tannehill missed a couple of weeks. Henry leads the NFL with 1,010 rushing yards. He has 10 touchdowns as well. If any team should be thankful for their top player, it is the Titans.

There has not been much to cheer about with Denver this season, as 2022 has mostly been disappointing. Defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones is turning into a star on the Broncos’ defense. He has 33 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Denver’s defense is third in points allowed.

With the departure of Tyreek Hill, experts believed that Patrick Mahomes would regress. However, Travis Kelce is still there and still catching passes from Mahomes. Kelce had three touchdown catches in their win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. He leads the league with 11 touchdown catches.

Austin Ekeler has been Justin Herbert’s security blanket this season, as the Chargers have been hit with the injury bug at a ton of positions. He has 534 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in addition to his 69 catches for 437 yards and four scores.

While the Raiders have been hurting for wins this season, the acquisition of Davante Adams has paid off at least. Adams has at least 10 touchdowns for the third consecutive season and sixth time overall. He caught 64 passes for 925 yards. He caught the game-winner against the Broncos last week.

Tony Pollard has been great for the Cowboys and has given the offense a boost with Ezekiel Elliott on the sidelines. He has continued that tear as the two split time in the backfield and has proven his worth. He is about to surpass his career-high rushing total as he has 701 yards on the ground this season. He also has a career-high six rushing touchdowns.

A healthy Saquon Barkley in a contract year has been a boon for the Giants. Barkley is converging on 1,000 yards rushing this season and has six rushing touchdowns. He should be able to reach the mark for the third time in his career within the next two games or so.

Jalen Hurts’ improvement has been buoyed by the acquisition of A.J. Brown and the development of Devonta Smith. Hurts has the Eagles on top of the NFL and in year three has 2,407 passing yards and 15 touchdown passes.

Taylor Heinicke is back at the helm of the offense, and under his leadership this season, he has led the Commanders to four of their six wins. He replaced Carson Wentz for good this season, and he has 1,031 passing yards and five touchdown passes. Washington is in a position to sneak into the playoffs.

NFL THANKSGIVING DAY: 8 UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS

Justin Fields has made a big impact under first-year coach Matt Eberflaus. He has showcased what he can do with his arm and without star wide receivers. Fields has 1,642 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes. He also leads the team with 834 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. His abilities will make the Bears dangerous in the future.

Jamaal Williams has been a revelation for the Lions this season. He leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12. It has been the first time he has reached double digits in touchdowns. The Lions are 4-6 and could very well cause some disruptions toward the end of the season.

In a disappointing Packers season, rookie linebacker Quay Walker has stepped up. Walker has 82 combined tackles, four tackles for a loss, three QB hits, three passes defended and three forced fumbles. Green Bay is a middle-of-the-road defense, but the future could very well revolve around Walker.

Justin Jefferson is having a season reminiscent of Calvin Johnson – and he is only in his third year. Jefferson has 72 catches for 1,093 yards and four touchdowns. His season is partly what the Vikings have done so well. If it was not for him, there would be a lot of different conversations being had about the future of the team.

Cordarrelle Patterson is the jack of all trades and continues to deliver a boost to a fledgling Falcons offense. Patterson was out briefly because of an injury, but his ability to make plays from almost anywhere on the field has been a boon for the Falcons. Atlanta has lost a lot of close games this season, but it has not been because of poor play from one of their stars.

The Panthers are having another tough season, but Brian Burns has consistently been the star of the defense. Burns has played in all 11 games and is on pace to surpass his career high in sacks and tackles. He has eight sacks this season and 50 total tackles. Carolina is not good, but Burns is really good.

Another team that has not been able to sustain any success so far this season has been the Saints. Veteran linebacker Demario Davis has shown out. Davis has a career-high 6.5 sacks and 66 total tackles in 11 games for New Orleans. He may make a case for First-Team All-Pro again this season.

As the Bucs have struggled, Devin White and the defense has maintained some power this season. White leads the team with 76 total tackles and is second with five sacks. He was also the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 10. Tampa Bay is sixth in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed.

The Cardinals have had more downs than ups this season, but the play of Budda Baker has remained consistent this season. The four-time Pro Bowler has 85 tackles, four passes defended and an interception. He leads the team in tackles and his competitive drive has remained consistent regardless of the team’s performance.

Aaron Donald has been the leader of the Rams’ defense since he came onto the team, and that has remained the norm through the turbulent 2022 season. Donald has 46 tackles this season and five sacks. He has a handful of games to get to double digits, but the Rams should be happy to have him.

The 49ers started the season with Trey Lance as the starting quarterback, but after an injury shut him down for the season, Jimmy Garoppolo was put back in as the starter. Since then, he has led the team back to the top of the division and has them in good position to make the playoffs again.

Geno Smith took the starting role after the team traded Russell Wilson and not much was expected. Now, Smith has the Seahawks tied with the 49ers on the top of the division. The veteran leads the league in completion percentage (72.8) and has 17 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. He’s been getting MVP chatter in some cases but is almost a lock for Comeback Player of the Year at the least.

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